Sunday, December 31, 2006

Work has started on the winter road for 2007

Click on the link below to read an article on the CBC website relating to the winter road preparation for the 2007 season.

Maintenance of the Winter Road

In the three camps along the winter road; Dome Lake, Lockhart, and LacDeGras, there is a wide variety of road maintenance equipment as well as operators to run the equipment and mechanics for maintaining same. An expereinced "lead hand" is also situated in each camp to oversee the maintenance activity. The first picture is a "profiler" which pulls a "profiling instrument" (a radar unit) which measure the thickness of the ice to first of all establish the strength of present ice so heavier snow movement equipment can go to work or ongoing profiling to ensure thicknesses of the ice is sufficient to handle the heavy loads being transported on the road.

The first picture is a "Hagland" manufactured by Mercedes Benz and I understand was purchased from the US Military. The above picture is a Toyota diesel landcruiser with track units pulling a profiling unit. As a side note I was told a Saskatchewan farmer was the inventor of the track units that replace each wheel. I drove one of these units with the profiling operator in 2005 and it was interesting to drive up to a snowbank the height of the vehicle and climb up over into the snow beyond. Behind this second profiler picture there's a grader with a V Plow following cutting out the new road where the profiler has confirmed the ice thickness is sufficient for the grader's weigth. When a piece of machinery was cutting a new another vehicle and person would be close by to maintain a watch for safety reasons.

Graders are the mainstay for opening and maintaining the winter road however Haglands and snow cats are often needed to open the road because of their much lower weights.

This picture is of a snow cat manufactured by Bombardier ("That's MY snowcat" - another idea for a TV commercial for Bombardier)? The pads on each side of these snow cats are about 36 inches wide.

This snowblower situated at LacDeGras camp is powered by a V12 diesel engine and it creates a spectacular rooster tail of snow which on a clear day with a beautiful blue sky is a glorious site. In the packed snow alongside lakes above the tree line the operator could only "bit" off a strip along the bank about 2 feet wide.

To "flood" the ice in order to build up ice thickness and heal weak spots "school" buses were with large diesel engines would suck water from the lakes and an equally impressive stream of water was produced that pumped several gallongs on water a minute out as far as 150 or so feet. Ice augers, both hand held and 6 foot long hydraulic units mounted on the rear of a pickup would preceed the buses. Often "hurricane pumps" which sat in the holes made in the ice were used for flooding as well. As one an imagine, a huge anount of ice fog could be produced with 100's of gallons of fresh water being pumped onto the road surface so the vehicles were slowed to 5 km/h when going through these zones or passing cres working on the road surface.

Crawler tractors and loaders were used as well for clearing snow on the portages.

An impressive task to clear some 400 kilometers of road in a time frame of about 3 to 4 weeks between the time of there being sufficient ice to support the construction and maintenance equipment and the time the loads start to travel.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Do you enjoy Sunsets and Sunrises?

The sunsets and sunrise would last for 1 1/2 to 2 hours this far north and were often glorious turning the snow different colors and making the snow sculptures made by the snow even more interesting.

This photo is of an Inukshuk which was placed on the hill behind the LacDeGras road camp as a memory to a camp attendant who died of a heart attack a few summers ago. This Inukshuk is made of stone. One of the grader operators on the night shift made one from snow blocks between the two lanes on Mackay Lake. It is depicted below.

This is one of my favorites. The frost on the trees on Gordon Lake gave the tree in front of the rising sun the appearance of a palm tree. There are 4 or 5 caribou on the left side of the island in the photograph.

This photo was taken at the south end of Mackay lake which was the start of the tree line. Many days (probably cooler ones mainly) the horizon in a complete 360 degrees would look like this with the pinks and purples and this would last all day long.

This photo depicts the snow covered rocks and hills colored by the setting sun. This photo was taken near LacDeGras road camp.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The various kinds of loads

The roll on the back of this load was a piece of conveyor belting being transported into the DeBeers mine at Snap Lake. I can't recall what the driver said it weighed or cost but it struck me at the time as both being VERY substantial.

Some of the loads were so heavy they cam in over 11 axles. This particular loadhas 9 axles under it. Some of the highway tractors on the winter road were tandem steering axles and tridem driving axles.

The day this load was going north alongwith 3 or 4 other storage tanks was a gorgeous day with a blue sky. It was interesting to see these loads from a higher point in the road going through the bush where just the tops of the tanks were seen and the tractors and trailers were hidden by the bush. And of course with them being quite top heavy it was likewise interesting to see thee edges of the tanks dip close to the ground when the wheels on one side would go up on a higher point on the road.

Another day with lots of blue sky (but cold) and a load that was over 11 axles. This was the body portion of a dragline I believe. Note the tandem/tridem tractor. This photo was taken on Mackay Lake which comprised 95 kilometers of the winter road. At 30 kilometers an hour it took the trucks over 3 hours to cross this lake and on a sunny day it was sometimes hard to stay awake! And the photo below depicts what would happen when a driver DID fall asleep on a curve!

The snow alongside Mackay Lake or any of the lakes north of the tre line which was at the south end of Mackay Lake would pack down like cement and pulling a load out was not necessarily an easy feat. This load was pulled out by a highway tractor (a tandem/tridem) that was equipped with a winch but the winch truck had to be anchored by a second truck with a load.

Each year there are several loads of FERTILIZER that goes into each of the mines. The "fertilizer" is combined with diesel fuel to create dynamite for use in the kimberlite pits. This load was just coming onto Card's Slough which is south of the infamous "Charlie's Hill"!

Wildlife along the Winter Road

There are numerous animals to be seen along the winter road, be it wolves (above) or caribou, foxes (cross, red, or arctic), wolverine, moose as well as birds like ptarmigan and ravens and the odd whiskey jack/Canadian Jay. This wolf was about 2/3rds up Mackay Lake and was a very large male whose footprints were 6 1/2 inches long as well as wide. I stopped on a portage one time where I saw wolf tracks from a wolf that was running in front of the patrol truck. There was at least 6 feet between paw prints making the ground the wolf covered at least 24 feet each time it's 4 paws cycled! I managed to catch up to him a few kilometers later and he was probably larger than the one above and as the patrol vehicle approached he ran off into the snow on a small lake and immediately "bogged" down in the deep snow so he made for the bush as fast as he could go.
This raven was flying alongside the patrol truck and my camera caught him by aiming from my lap and guessing as to him being in the venter of the frame. The ravens would land on the hoods of the big trucks and if the driver placed a sandwich or cookie on the dash they would walk across the hood and look in through the windshield at the morsel they weren't SUPPOSED to have! The trucks were restricted to 25 or 30 km/h so it wasn't hard for the ravens to preform on the hoods while the trucks were moving.

This red fox was photographed on the south end of Mackay Lake.

This caribou was walking through fairly deep snow on a beautiful sunny day and the trees around it were coated in a very thick layer of frost that was gone a week or two later after a day or two of wind. The largest herds of caribou I saw in the 2006 season was about 130 animals and I was in the southernmost camp in 2006 (Dome Lake Camp). The first year (2005) I was in the northermost camp (LacDeGras Road Camp).

The ptarmigan changes colors from summer to winter and often one would come around a bend on a portage and see several white "lumps" on the road and instinctively think it was lumps of snow and at the last second the "lumps" would be transformed into ptarmigan and fly off leaving me to look in the mirror thinking I MUST have hit one but that was never the case. On a sunny day they would stand out so beautifully as they sat on the dark limbs of the birch trees or evergreens.

Welcome to the "winter road" that travels into the Canadian Diamond Mines. I am a retired RCMP member who for the last 2 winters has patrolled the ice road. The ice road starts at Tibbett Lake northeast of Yellowknife and travels up to LacDeGras where Diavek and Ekati Diamond Mines are past the Snap Lake site operated by DeBeers and north on Contwoyto Lake to the Tahera Diamond Mine. The photo above is an ore box for an ore truck and was taken coming onto the south end of Mackay Lake about 130 kms south of LacDeGras. I will attempt to upload some more photos from the last two years to this site and while patrolling this coming winter (2007) I will likewise try to update the site with the current conditions and items of interest I see from day to day. I hope you enjoy.

This photo is of a southbound (empty) fuel truck on Mackay Lake. Over half of the loads are diesel fuel for operational needs at the mines and to alleviate some of the need for diesel, wind generators are being built at at least two of the mine sites for the generation of electricity.